There are many different types of therapy available to those with dementia, but one type that can help but often not talked about is that of validation therapy.

What is validation therapy?

Validation therapy is a special type of dementia therapy that is holistic in nature due to its focus on the individual and their own feelings, emotions and mental state.

It focuses on listening to the individual in question and offers them a means of expression, be it verbally or nonverbally. Validation therapy is built on the belief that there is a reason behind every action, even negative ones such as seemingly irrational or illogical behaviour.

 These problems often stem from conditions such as dementia. When someone with dementia’s memory fails, they may try to retrieve memories from the past in an attempt to restore balance.

There is also the understanding that behavioural changes are not only because of changes in the brain, but also due to a combination of physical, social and psychological changes.

These behaviours are very difficult to change because they can only be changed if the person wants to change them, which can prove near impossible for those with dementia due to the nature of the condition.

“Validation is about being in the moment with the person,” said Julia Pitkin, a validation practitioner from the UK.

“Whereas contradicting can break down bonds, this approach is about keeping and strengthening that bond, so the person is more likely to feel calm and trusting, and accept help.”

History of validation therapy

Validation therapy was developed by Naomi Feil between over the course of 17 years, between 1963 and 1980. She created the method after becoming dissatisfied with the traditional methods used for the elderly with dementia during her time in social work.

In 1982, she published her findings in a book titled “Validation: The Feil Method, and in 1992, published another updated version called “The Validation Breakthrough.” Alongside the books, Feil has also created the Validation Training Institute, which has its base in Springfield, America.

How effective is validation therapy?

Validation therapy is a useful technique to build and promote empathy which can help build trust, reduce anxiety and restore dignity.

There is also evidence that facing these somewhat difficult behaviours and expressing and acknowledging them will help diminish any painful feelings and emotions surrounding them.

However, there is a lot of criticism surrounding validation therapy due to its heavy reliance on lying to the patient. Someone with dementia may believe they need to do something they haven’t done in years, or see someone that no longer exists. With validation therapy, it is encouraged to not correct the patient and instead simply get them to discuss the situation the patient believes they are in.

There is also concerns that any positive effects from validation therapy often take a while to surface compared to various other dementia therapy techniques.

Despite this, according to the Validation Training Institute, over 10,000 agencies in Australia, Europe, Japan and the United States use the validation method.